Tragedy of Celebrity Soaps

By Liz Simpson

Millions of television viewers sit motionless watching other people doing nothing. They might be 'D' list wannabes in the Australian jungle but we're obsessed with other people's lives. Celebrities stalked by paparazzi. Or, spied on round the clock by hidden television cameras. They've got the name - they're fair game.

The paparazzi hounded Princess Diana to her death. The most photographed woman in the world was caught on camera in Paris as her life's breath ebbed away.

Diana's death in 1997 was sudden - more dramatic than anyone could have imagined. But the media were prepared. They had the obituaries ready. The public cannot be sold short. We have an insatiable appetite for gossip about celebrities and there's only one thing more interesting than their lives - their death.

But if the press were ready to go with blanket coverage, they could not have been prepared for criticism of them by the public. They were called 'murderers'. The paparazzi were particularly held responsible.

At Diana's funeral, her brother, Lord Spencer, said: "It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this - a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age."

Somehow the more vibrant the life, the more fascinating the death. The public have just had a banquet with fallen hero George Best. We' were given blow-by-blow reports of his tragic decline. The top consultant, Professor Roger Williams, who cared for Best during his last days in hospital, said that the family attempted to get the retired footballer out of his coma by saying "swear words, good words, bad words, anything to poke a reaction from him". But we, the public, are strangers and have been given private information we had no right to receive.

Best offered value for money. As his grieving family huddled by the bedside, the media sat in judgment. This beautiful young man from Northern Ireland with an incredible gift for the beautiful game had the world at his feet yet threw it all away. The tabloids papers bleated: "He was given a new liver and continued to drink. He let his family down."

I'd have wanted to slap them. But Best's family had grown used to the nature of celebrity. They'd seen his troubled private life laid bare before the public gaze. Best had captured the imagination of the people and so he'd become 'public property'. But this shy, working class boy hadn't sought celebrity - nor, by proxy, had his family. It was thrust upon them. Best had no more say in his rise to fame than he had in his fall. His talent was God-given as was the alcohol addiction that killed him. Best's mother died an alcoholic.

The media say that coverage is market driven - they give us what we want. That must be true. But news consumption is an acquired taste. Like fast food, soaps and reality TV, the public have been encouraged to join the party. It's easy to provide and easy to digest and, as with any other addiction, once acquired it's very difficult to kick the habit.

The dust has barely settled on George Best yet the media already have another victim in their sights. He is another flawed, boozy former football star. Paul Gascoigne, nicknamed 'Gazza', was the golden boy of English football in the early nineties. But this Geordie boy was more than a soccer hero. Tears on the pitch and drunken fights off it starkly exposed his human frailities. Gazza, like Best and Diana, had enough character weaknesses to make him a sexy tabloid story. The sad lives of all of them were given the British soap opera treatment. The media. The public. None of us can escape blame for our involvement in the sorry spectacle.

1 Response to "Tragedy of Celebrity Soaps"


Sat, 01/28/2006 - 18:34
Britain's most popular Tv talent show may not be tragic but it borders on the pathetic. &quot;You are the X Factor&quot;. &quot;You are a star&quot;. These were the emphatic statements of X Factor reality show judges Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh to 21-year-old Shayne Ward, in the final, after his last song showdown with fellow finalist, Andy Abraham, aged 41. <br /> <br /> At that moment, Cowell and Walsh collaboratively sealed the fate of both finalists: Shayne the winner and Andy runner-up. Yes, the public were given the power to decide this year's winner. More than 10 million people voted for the acts. But The X Factor is about clever manipulation. <br /> <br /> Playing the role of music pundits like the real life positions of Cowell and Walsh, voters were encouraged to think like them and make Shayne the victor, in the hope that the shop assistant from <br /> <br /> Manchester can replicate the commercial success of Pop Idol champion Will Young. Ward has the necessary criteria: a young white male who could occupy the mainstream <br /> position in the British pop market, attracting a lucrative teenage fan base of both girls and boys. Andy, older, black and equally, if not more talented, did not.<br /> <br /> The X Factor show sets it self up as a vehicle for discovering original, talented singers with exceptional appeal and propelling them to long term stardom. It has been a phenomenal hit with viewers. An estimated 9.3 million of them watched the finale. <br /> <br /> However, the programmes credibility is in doubt with the failure of last year's winner, Steve Brookstein, to make an impact as a recording artist. Cowell and his team have shortened the ladder of opportunity for some contestants in a desperate bid to turn out a reproduction of a 'chart star'. This year's competition had less of The X <br /> <br /> Factor about it and more of the Will Young Factor. Next year's model may be new 'pop princess' Charlotte Church. 2006 contestants beware.